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Monday, May 14, 2007

FOI issue turns into public health debate

Food handling standards in restaurants, in NSW at least, is fast becoming a public health issue. Tim Elliott in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday quoted an expert in the field - some kitchens are "straight out of Monty Python with rat infestations and more cockroaches than you would believe".

Its hard to know whether things are any better now than in the 70s when three steak houses were prosecuted for selling horse meat. An expert says "when the news got out they were finished: local fellas would pop their heads in and yell out, "who ya got on today chef? Phar Lap or Bernborough?".

The Freedom of Information issue - that some local councils, and presumably the NSW Food Authority take the view that information about fines should not be disclosed because of possible harmful effects on the restaurants concerned - remains. Elliott quotes Des Sibraa, a former Chief Food Inspector for NSW as saying "thats the bloody idea. Name and shame - the public deserve to know".

Elliott also reports that Parliament will consider in July a bill to make council inspections mandatory. It's probably a surprise to most of us that it isn't already.

Let's hope Parliament also provides a lead on the public right to know about a major public health matter. The experts say it's time for Sydney to follow the international trend towards transparency with a Scores on Doors or similar scheme to put inspection reports on public display.

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